LEXINGTON, Ky. — Mark Stoops is not loose with praise, especially for the Kentucky defensive backs he scrutinizes so carefully, and yet there he was on Day 1 of preseason camp heaping it on sophomore Jordan Griffin.
“I have high expectations for this season,” Stoops said. “He’s a guy that I love working with, because he is just very conscientious. When we talk development, it’s about feeding them the right medicine and them taking the medicine. He’s a guy that takes the medicine.”
And then there was Griffin on Saturday, Day 7 of camp, with several hundred fans watching at an open practice, wearing a red no-contact jersey because of a sore shoulder and nevertheless dishing out a little medicine of his own.
The 6-foot, 180-pound defensive back stalked 6-foot-5, 245-pound tight end C.J. Conrad across the field and to the sideline, where Griffin hammered him with a hit that broke up a pass and dropped his man. That red jersey is supposed to be an indication that the player is to be protected, but Griffin made clear he didn’t need protecting.
“Just competing,” he said afterward, laughing. “That’s what it’s all about. I try not to use that [red jersey] as an excuse. I didn’t even want to wear it.”
Studious and tough? It’s little wonder why Stoops swoons over Griffin, who he calls a gym rat, among other terms of endearment.
“You give him the tools, you give him the details and work with him, he takes it all in and he soaks it up and he really works at it,” Stoops said. “I’ve seen players that have done that, that have developed themselves into first-round talent just by the work ethic. And I hope he takes some steps like that. I’m not putting that on him at a young age, but you just love his work ethic, you love how conscientious he is.
“He’s kind of a quiet kid, but he’s become a leader because people respect him.”
To that point, junior safety Mike Edwards recently called Griffin a “perfect person” because of his model behavior — early to bed, early to rise, studying his playbook and film, staying out of trouble — while junior corner Derrick Baity said Griffin does “everything right.”
That kind of praise from teammates “really touched me deeply,” Griffin said. But getting rave reviews from Stoops, who once coached arguably the greatest secondary in college football history at Miami in the early 2000s (and later some very good ones at Florida State), is an even bigger deal.
“He’s definitely the guru,” Griffin said. “It’s definitely a blessing. I’m just staying poised, trying to continue to grow, continue to work hard, each and every day doing the little things, doing the extra. For him to say those words, that makes me want to go do more, makes me want to separate myself even more.”
Griffin, out of Riverdale, Ga., was rated a 4-star recruit and the No. 15 corner in the Class of 2016 by Rivals.com after he had a 1,000 receiving yards and three interceptions as a senior in high school. He played in eight games as a true freshman last fall — mostly on special teams — posting six tackles, but his role will significantly increase this season.
He has already practiced at corner, safety and nickel in the last week.
“I’m working everywhere. Wherever they need me, I’m just doing that,” said Griffin, who plans to stick with what he’s done so far to catch the coaches’ eye: “It’s the little things that make you who you are. Those are the things that we stress, the things that I live by.
“I’m just trying to take it head-on, just seeing the opportunity and just trying to seize the moment. Really not trying to use my age as an excuse, just trying to grow and do whatever I can to help the team.”